I first noticed that eating bread first set me up to over eat way back in the early 1990’s, and it wasn’t just bread. Any carbohydrate would trigger a dreaded compulsion to eat more.
One I started munching on starch or sugar, I felt compelled to keep eating. Now research provides first evidence that eating carbs first drives both blood sugar and insulin levels higher compared to the same food eaten in a different order. Aaaah. That explains everything.
COMPULSIVE EATING OR BIOCHEMISTRY?
Once excessive carbohydrates hit the palate–that’s both sugars and refined starches–blood sugars start to rise. Rising blood sugar triggers a cascade of hormonal signals that drive food behavior, especially for insulin resistant types. Elevated levels of insulin tend to compel people to eat more. Many people describe an experience akin to compulsive eating.
My guess is that it’s not just Type II diabetics that struggle with carbs first, but every person who struggles with belly fat or some level of insulin resistance regardless of overall weight.
NOT JUST DIABETICS
Interestingly, some of the most pronounced elevation of blood glucose and insulin occurs before diagnosis of type II diabetes. The metabolic dynamic drives weight gain, and basically turns the thinking that weight causes diabetes inside out. Weight gain and obesity is the result of poor metabolic health, not the cause.
Don’t fret if most of your insulin sensitive friends who burn carbohydrate like incinerators don’t understand what you are talking about. Their experience with food couldn’t be more different. The good news is that this won’t be difficult to test out for yourself.
EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR FOOD
Try eating protein first at every meal. In the morning drink a latte, grab a Greek yogurt, eat your eggs, scoop a tablespoon of peanut butter if you must. At lunch sneak a few bites of the burger from the bun or order protein style. Eat the protein on the salad preferentially. Start with a protein based soup or other appetizer.
When you aren’t in control of what is served, stack the deck in your favor and snack on a few nuts, drink a glass of milk or chew on a bite of cheese before the meal is served or you arrive. Then notice if you need to eat as much as you are used to eating.
Sometimes it will be challenging to notice the difference until you go back to eating the bread, tortilla chips, bread sticks or pretzel mix while waiting to be served. Just wait until the next carb fest masquerading as Continental breakfast. Will you be eating more all day?
PROTEIN FIRST, ESPECIALLY AWAY FROM HOME
In the meantime, it’s time to talk to restaurants about all that bread, all those chips, crackers and every other starchy basket of something put on tables before meals. Home cooks and party planners could rethink appetizers. So many good alternatives come to mind:
Here are some of my favorites table snacks/appetizers to start things off better:
1. Italian/Mediterranean: Olives, marinated vegetables, marinated seafood, hummus w/ vegetables
2. Mexican: Escabeche (fermented carrots/jalapenos/onions); ceviche
3. Deli: Fermented pickles, green tomatoes
4. Steakhouse: shrimp cocktail, crabcake, steak or tuna tartare
5. Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese – satay, hot & sour soup, shrimp spring rolls
6. Japanese: Edamame, miso soup w/ tofu
For home cooks, setting out a cheese plate or a mix of nuts works well. People like to play with food, so hosts can try setting out peanuts and pistachios in the shell. Personally I keep a one ounce tin of almonds at my side, in the glove compartment, and at my desk for just these occasions. I finally found a supplier to create my own tin to share with clients, friends and family, as well as to offer at marketing events. (Want one of your own? Visit me at the Santa Monica Wellbeing/Buy Local Festival in Santa Monica September 12.)
I’d love to put a handout together recommending even more ideas for ordering or serving protein first. What are some of your favorites? Click on the comment button above to share your ideas.